Wisconsin teachers union decertified in latest blow to labor under Walker law


Protesters return to occupy the state Capitol June 14, 2011.ReutersTeachers from one of Wisconsin’s largest unions have jumped ship — voting overwhelmingly to abandon the group in the latest in a string of setbacks for the struggling labor movement following Gov. Scott Walker’s union overhaul two years ago.

The decision this week to disband by members of the Kenosha Education Association came after the organization was stripped of its certification and told it had lost its power to bargain for base wages with the district. The group was decertified after missing a key deadline in the annual reapplication process.

When the group might actually disband was not clear and calls to the organization were not returned.

The development is in keeping with an overall downward spiral for Wisconsin’s public worker unions. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported earlier this year that tens of thousands of teachers and other government workers have left their unions since the Walker-backed law took effect.

Known as Act 10, the set of reforms includes a provision that says unions won’t be recognized by the state unless 51 percent of all potential members support them in annual elections.

These elections have contributed to their decline.

According to Reuters, elections in 2011 and 2012 — in which 207 school districts, 39 municipal and six state units participated — resulted in 32 unions and their affiliates, or about 13 percent, being decertified.

However, those decertifications are on hold until the legal cases involving Act 10 are resolved in court.

Union contracts in three Wisconsin districts — Janesville, Milwaukee and Kenosha — were up for renewal over the summer and were required by law to file for their annual recertification by the end of August. Janesville and Milwaukee made the deadline. Kenosha did not, according to Peter Davis, general counsel of the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission.

Christina Brey, a spokeswoman from the Wisconsin Education Association Council, downplayed the re-certification in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

In Wisconsin, unions that aren’t certified are still allowed to operate but aren’t allowed to bargain for limited base-wage increases with the district. However, trying to get re-certified after falling behind a cycle or two will cost the union money. And that money will likely come from dues raised from members. Still, Brey seems to be taking the judgment in stride.

“It seems like the majority of our affiliates in the state aren’t seeking re-certification, so I don’t think the KEA is an outlier or unique in this,” Brey told the paper, adding that certification gives the union scant power over a limited number of issues they’d like a voice in.

But Matt Patterson, labor analyst with the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute, claimed the vote was a sign that workers were turning their backs on the unions.

“The news today proves what unions have long feared — that when workers are actually given a free and fair choice, they will often choose opt out of union membership altogether,” he said.

“The public at large — and an increasing number of union members — have become wise to the fact labor unions stifle innovation and burden governments and businesses with unsustainable costs and regulations.”

So what’s this mean for the Kenosha union? For now, not a lot.

The state is still knee-deep in legal challenges to Act 10 and until all of those are decided, the rulings of the lower courts serve more as a moral blow than anything else. However, as these losses pile up, some say it’s only a matter of time before the unions lose their footing in Wisconsin.

Earlier this week, in an unrelated case, federal judge William Conley ruled that Walker’s public union restrictions are constitutional. It was the second major victory for Walker’s Act 10.

Conley’s ruling was based on a case brought by two public-worker unions from the city of Madison and Dane County. The suit, filed in 2011, claims Walker’s law steps on their constitutional right to freely assemble and express their views. They also argue that Act 10 violates their equal protection rights.

Conley ruled the recently enacted laws don’t silence employees or their unions in collective bargaining.

Act 10 was viewed by unions in Wisconsin as well as in major cities across the country as an assault on organized labor. The reforms led to massive protests in Wisconsin’s largely liberal capital city of Madison.

Walker, after taking office, also moved to dilute the power of public unions to collectively bargain, and to require public employees to make pension contributions and pay at least 12 percent of their health insurance premiums.

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At least 3 dead as Colorado flooding cuts off mountain towns


Sept. 12, 2013: Boulder Creek floods its banks in Colorado. (Fox News)Days of heavy rain in Colorado caused flash flooding that cut off remote towns Thursday and left at least three people dead across a rugged landscape.

After a rainy week, up to 8 more inches fell in an area spanning from the Wyoming border south to the foothills west of Denver. Flooding extended all along the Front Range mountains and into some cities, including Colorado Springs, Denver, Fort Collins, Greeley, Aurora and Boulder.

Boulder County appeared to be hardest hit. Sheriff Joe Pelle said the town of Lyons was completely cut off because of flooded roads, and residents were huddling together on higher ground. Although everyone was believed to be safe, the deluge was expected to continue into Friday.

Numerous roads and highways were washed out or made impassable by floods. Floodwaters poured into homes, and at least a few buildings collapsed in the torrent.

“The rains have been sitting over that area,” Boulder Office of Emergency Management spokeswoman Gabrielle Boerkircher said. Boulder offices and facilities, including libraries and recreation centers, were closed Thursday due to the conditions. Hundreds of university students living near a creek in the city have also been evacuated.

The Weather Service said that county officials reported some homes had collapsed in Jamestown, where dozens of people live, according to a report by The Denver Post.

Boerkircher told The Associated Press that one person was killed when a structure collapsed in Jamestown, but that she didn’t have any other details because rescuers hadn’t reached the scene.

“There are mudslides prohibiting us from getting to that area,” Boerkircher said.

Another person drowned in northern Boulder as he was trying to help a woman who was swept away in a torrent of water, authorities said. Boulder County sheriff’s Cmdr. Heidi Prentup said the woman is still missing.

To the south, Colorado Springs police conducting flood patrols found the body of 54-year-old Danny Davis in Fountain Creek on the west side of the city.

An evacuation center for the mountain residents has been sent up in nearby Nederland, officials said.

Meanwhile, about 400 students at the University of Colorado housing in Boulder were evacuated and classes canceled Thursday because of the flooding, Boekircher said. The school said it will assess the situation and determine when it will reopen portions of its campus.

Firefighters performed a daring rescue of two men trapped in vehicles in Rock Creek, east of Boulder. After rushing water collapsed a section of road, rescuers used a raft to reach the men, broke the car windows and lifted them to safety.

Some of the flooding was exacerbated by wildfire “burn scars” that have spawned flash floods all summer in the mountains. That was particularly true in an area scarred by fire in 2010 near the tiny community of Jamestown and another near Colorado Springs’ Waldo Canyon that was hit in 2012.

“We’ve asked people in low-lying areas all through the county to evacuate,” said Andrew Barth, another Emergency Management spokesman.

In addition to the two counties where there were flood emergencies, the Weather Service posted flash flood warnings for parts of Broomfield, Adams, Weld, Larimer, and El Paso counties.

Mudslides and rockslides were reported in several areas, with parts of U.S. 6, Boulder Canyon, Colorado 14 and U.S. 287 all reporting problems and temporary blockages during the evening, the Denver Post said. Lefthand Canyon was reported blocked by one of the many slides.

Boulder police dispatchers were receiving calls of flooding basements and homes and of flooded streets and submerged cars. Authorities said the flooding has made many Boulder streets impassable.

Emergency Management Director Mike Chard.said people should avoid creeks and waterways, and not attempt to cross flooded intersections in their cars.

“We’re also asking people who are OK to shelter in place Thursday, just because the roads are so bad,” Barth said.

Rain showers and thunderstorms were expected through the night, with some storms capable of dumping an inch of water in 30 minutes, the weather service warned.